Are you here because you’re thinking about starting a long distance relationship? Or maybe you’ve already started a long distance relationship, but you’re feeling totally lost and wondering how to make it work.
Well, friend, I have been in your exact shoes.
After multiple years of an international long distance relationship, I am an expert on the subject. Starting a long distance relationship is hard as hell, but in my opinion, totally worth it (I’m marrying my long distance partner so… I’ve got to say that, haha!).
In this post, I’m sharing a detailed guide to starting a LDR: from those horrible, indecisive weeks before you officially decide to take your relationship long distance, to the first few months when you have no idea if it’s going to work out or not.
And after you read all that advice, be sure to review the final section on what to expect in a typical “long distance relationship timeline.”
Consider me your long distance relationship big sister. I’m here to guide you through it all!
Check out my other long distance relationship posts:
The Complete Guide to Starting a Long Distance Relationship
Let’s first acknowledge that everyone’s situation is unique.
You might be reading this because either you or your partner are moving, and you need to decide whether to try out long distance.
Or maybe you met your partner online and you’re starting a long distance relationship without ever meeting.
Whatever your own situation, I think you’ll be able to relate to my story, and that this advice will apply to your situation.
I can only speak from my own experience. My partner Dan and I met when I studied abroad in England (I’m American, he’s British). At the end of study abroad came a tough decision: whether starting a long distance relationship was worth it.
You can read more about our story in this blog post. The short version is that it was NOT easy – we even broke up for a short period of time at the beginning – but ultimately starting our LDR was the best decision ever, because years later we are engaged and traveling the world together!
I think what you’ll find in this guide to starting a long distance relationship is a dose of realism and the challenges of LDRs, mixed with encouragement that if we could do it, so can you!
Why Bother Starting a Long Distance Relationship?
You need to be able to understand why YOU want to start a long distance relationship, before you discuss starting a long distance relationship with your partner.
You’re probably thinking, “Sarah, this is dumb, I know why I want a long distance relationship…” But trust me, it’s worth it to take the time here and really verbalize it to yourself. After all, this is the foundation that your entire relationship will be built on.
The core reasons to start a long distance relationship go deeper than just “my partner is moving” or “we live in different places.”
Long Distance = Long Term
I’ll share the hard truth with you. If you don’t see your relationship lasting for the long haul, or at least the potential for it to, then it’s not worth starting a long distance relationship.
LDRs are not only difficult for your relationship but also for your personal, emotional, social, and even financial life. So, you need to see some inkling of the relationship lasting long term to justify all the other challenges.
Wrong Reasons for Starting a Long Distance Relationship
Unfortunately, a lot of people start long distance relationships for the wrong reasons, and in my opinion this is usually why they fail.
The wrong reasons include:
- Fear of being alone
- Avoiding change
- Fear of getting back on the dating scene and finding a new partner
- Jealousy that your partner may find someone new
- Deeper insecurities that make it feel easier to chat to someone online than in person
None of these are valid reasons to begin a long distance relationship, and I promise you they will only cause you more pain in the long run.
ACTION PLAN | Find a comfortable space, maybe with your favorite drink and comfy clothes. Take out a pen and paper and set a timer for 30 minutes. Journal out all the reasons you want to start a long distance relationship.
10 Steps to Follow Before You Start a Long Distance Relationship
The below are 10 steps to follow before you start a long distance relationship.
1. Figure Out What You Really Want
This ties into the section above. Your first step is to have a heart to heart with yourself, and either write down or verbalize all the reasons you want to stay with your partner long distance. This is really important to do before you broach the topic of starting a long distance relationship with your partner, so you can go in level-headed.
Some journal prompts or questions to ask yourself include:
- What are you afraid of if you broke up?
- What are you afraid of if you stayed together?
- How do you envision a future life together?
- Can you imagine one day living in the same place?
- How do you see yourself making time for your partner when you’re apart?
- What is your love language and how could it be fulfilled long distance?
- Do you trust your partner?
- How are your communication skills together?
2. Pros and Cons of Starting a Long Distance Relationship
The next step is to really consider both the pros and cons to starting a long distance relationship. As someone who was in an international long distance relationship for years, I can share some of my reflections with you.
Pros of long distance relationships:
- You get to continue your relationship with your best friend and person you envision as your long term partner (#1 pro!)
- Develop much deeper trust and communication skills that will last forever
- During time apart you invest in your independent hobbies, career goals, life plans, and other relationships
- Traveling to visit each other can be romantic and fun
- Time to grow as an independent person who doesn’t rely on a partner
- Have a deeper relationship once you do reunite
Cons of long distance relationships:
- You have to be physically apart from your best friend and person you envision as your long term partner (#1 con!)
- Traveling back and forth can become very expensive
- It can be challenging to maintain closeness through virtual communication
- If you have any underlying trust or communication issues they will surface very quickly
- Breaking up long distance can be open ended and hard to find closure – you may just never see each other again
- Balancing your long distance relationship with your in-person relationships can cause tensions
- You may find that you or your partner have changed when you reunite
- One or both of you will eventually have to move or compromise in order to be together
Now, it’s not as simple as one list being longer than the other. Different points have different values, and your personal pros/cons list will probably be different than mine. Writing this out, however, can be a useful exercise.
Remember that the cons list is pretty much always going to be longer than the pros list… otherwise everyone would want to be in a long distance relationship!
3. Have a Conversation with your Partner
Once you’ve come to terms with your motivations for starting a long distance relationship, it’s time to bring up the topic with your partner. For a lot of people, just starting the conversation can feel like the hardest part.
I know that for Dan and I, the subject of whether to continue our relationship long distance or break up was the elephant in the room for months. Honestly, it was painful at the time but looking back that’s pretty normal.
Whether you or your partner brings it up first, just getting the topic out in the air will probably already make you feel better.
Don’t put pressure on yourselves to have all the answers right away. Starting a long distance relationship is a huge step and, for most couples, will take multiple conversations to discuss.
4. Tips for the Big Starting a Long Distance Relationship Conversation
Eventually, all your little conversations about beginning a long distance relationship will lead to some bigger conversations because, ultimately, you have to make a decision. Trust me, I know how painful this time can be.
Here are some tips to make that big conversation easier:
- Share your own motivations for starting a LDR
- Listen to your partner’s motivations for starting a LDR
- Try to limit any expectations
- Discuss what each of your biggest fears are going into a LDR
- Talk about how you are feeling emotionally
- Don’t put pressure on yourselves to immediately make a decision
- Express what each of your goals are long term for your relationship
- Discuss alternate scenarios for how you could close the distance
- Try to stay calm and really listen to your partner’s thoughts and concerns
- Don’t try to convince or coerce
5. Take Your Time to Decide
I don’t believe that the decision to continue a relationship long distance can be made in just one conversation. Having been in a multi-year international long distance relationship myself, I can assure you that this is not a decision to rush into.
I can also assure you that if you go into your LDR with thought and care, you’re going to be much more likely to make it through, like we did!
You’ll thank yourselves in the long run if you really take your time to make a decision. Chances are, you’ve been thinking about it to yourself for a while. But you also deserve at least a few weeks of open discussion with your partner. By taking a short time limit out of the equation, you give yourselves more time for open discussion with less pressure.
6. Make Sure You Both Want It
It can be devastating to hear that your partner doesn’t want to continue your relationship long distance. You may also feel very hurt just by learning that they are not as sure about things as you are.
As painful as that can be, it’s going to be more painful to prolong a relationship across distance, when your partner is not putting in the same effort that you are. That situation will inevitably devolve into broken hearts.
If your partner doesn’t want to continue your relationship long distance, it’s in your best interest not to pressure them. Sure, have a few open and honest conversations over a span of weeks (maybe they are scared, and want your reassurance). But try to watch out for when that crosses a line into uneven commitment.
You deserve to be with someone who wants to be with you just as much as you want to be with them.
7. Compare Your Expectations
Beyond both wanting to be in a long distance relationship, you also need to discuss your expectations for what that will look like.
Are you going to visit every weekend, text every hour, and call for three hours every evening?
Or are you going to visit every three months, text every day, and call a couple times a week?
Does texting during the work day annoy you or stress you out, or is it something you’ll crave?
There are many different ways a long distance relationship can look. What you and your partner think of as the ideal long distance relationship may be completely different, so be sure to discuss what you think it will look like.
RELATED | 27 Creative Long Distance Date Ideas
8. Talk Through Your Fears and Concerns
Look, starting a long distance relationship can be terrifying.
For Dan and I, one of our greatest fears that we discussed before we went long distance was that over time and distance, our relationship would break down, and we’d split up. By breaking up across long distance, we’d just never see each other again, and have no form of closure.
Wouldn’t it be easier to end our relationship before going long distance, on good terms? That way we could look back on our time together as something finite and perfect that “had” to end, rather than something that became bitter and fizzled out.
Ultimately, we called BS on that logic. For us, that seemed like the coward’s way to think about things. By taking the leap into a long distance relationship, we were at least giving our future a chance, because any love worth having is worth fighting for.
If we’d never aired out our deepest fears, then those fears might have come true. That’s just one example, and your fears are probably different than ours. Whatever they are, it’s so important to talk about them with your partner, and work through solutions together.
9. Ignore Others’ Opinions
I’m going to prepare you now. Everyone’s going to have an opinion on your long distance relationship. (Spoiler: you’re not the drama, they’re the drama.)
While it’s true that everyone is entitled to their opinion, it’s also true that if you are constantly seeking validation from other people’s opinions, you’ll never truly know your own.
And truthfully, LDRs get an (undeserved) bad rep. Most people who’ve never even been in one have a fully formed negative opinion of them. Don’t adopt other people’s fears and stereotypes as your own, and most importantly, don’t let them determine what life path you take.
If you want a more positive perspective on long distance relationships (from people who’ve actually been there), then check out my article on inspiring long distance relationship stories.
10. Make an Action Plan for Visits, Communication, and Closing the Distance
And finally come the practicalities. Once you’ve done your soul searching, had your deep conversations, and aired out your fears, it’s time to make a plan. Long distance relationships are tough but trust me, they can be sooooo much easier if you go into them with an action plan!
Here are some important things to work out in person, before you go long distance:
- How often do you plan to visit each other?
- Will you trade off traveling each time?
- How are you splitting the expenses? Do you split the costs of all flights, foot your own travel bill, etc.?
- How frequently will you call on the phone?
- How frequently do you expect to text?
- What creative long distance dates or long distance games are you each interested in?
- If you have a time difference, what time of day will be easiest to talk?
- Do you envision a way to close the distance? What does this look like and what is the timescale?
- Are there any goals or achievements you each need to complete before you close the distance, that preclude you being together (ie, finishing school, a work contract, etc.)?
I honestly recommend going through each of those questions line-by-line with your partner, and discussing each one. It’s okay if your answers change over time, too. The important thing is making sure your plans match up, and approaching it as a team.
7 Steps for After You’ve Started a Long Distance Relationship
So, you’ve decided to enter a long distance relationship, but you’re still feeling a bit lost and confused. Below are seven pieces advice for brand new long distance relationships, based on my years in an international LDR.
1. Know That The Beginning is the Worst
Congrats! You and your partner have decided to try out a long distance relationship. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get easier (at least, not right away).
In my experience, and also in observing others in long distance relationships, the beginning is nearly always the worst. Switching to long distance is like going cold turkey off all the benefits of being together in person!
Think of it this way: the beginning of a long distance relationship is the furthest you’ll ever be from being back together in person.
So… obviously it’s hard! I’m saying this not because I have advice to make it not difficult, but to let you know that it’s normal for this phase to be difficult. Don’t give up now because it does get better!
After all, feeling the pain of being apart shows how much you value being together. You wouldn’t be making the sacrifices of being in a long distance relationship if some amount of struggle didn’t seem worth it to you.
2. Identifying and Managing Jealousy
Managing jealousy is the responsibility of both partners. It is up to each of you that you’re not creating reasons for the other person to feel jealous, but also that you’re not acting jealously out of personal insecurities rather than valid reasons.
Trying to make the other person jealous is a killer for any long distance relationship. This is a way to destroy any of the existing trust you had.
On the flip side, constantly being possessive of your partner and looking for reasons to be jealous is another killer. At a certain point you have to let go of control and just trust your partner, and have faith that they deserve to be trusted.
In some cases, you might find it difficult to even know if the emotion you’re feeling is jealousy. Maybe you are arguing more, or feeling less connected, or trying to talk on the phone more than is healthy. Oftentimes, jealousy is at the root of those problems.
A certain amount of jealousy is normal in a long distance relationship. The trick is to identify and address it before it goes too far, and starts impacting your connection with each other.
3. Make a Schedule
I highly recommend making a communication schedule when in a long distance relationship. Look, I know this seems weird and unnatural, but it works.
By nature, communication in a long distance relationship is unnatural. Every time you talk, one of you has to go out of their way to make the phone call or send the text.
At the beginning, it will also feel like there’s a lot of pressure on every single conversation. No longer are you calling for 30 seconds to ask them to pick up groceries, or yelling across the house to say their butt looks nice. All those small, casual interactions are taken away when you’re miles apart.
Instead, you’re going to rely on texts, video, and audio calls as the core of your communication. And even with the best intentions, it’s easy for those to get away from you in your busy life when your partner isn’t present – especially if there’s a time difference.
Tips for Making a Communication Schedule
Making a schedule for your communication ensures not only that you actually do call, but that you’re not distracted when you call. It guarantees you quality time together, when so much of your lives are apart.
Here are some considerations for building your communication schedule:
- Schedule a regular time for longer phone calls
- Discuss your time difference, sleeping patterns, and work or school schedules, and figure out a general time of day that is best for both of you
- Schedule a weekly “date” night when you do something other than just speaking on the phone (check out our favorite long distance date ideas here)
- Enroll in one of these long distance games so you can keep up low key, non-synchronous communication when you’re not talking on the phone
- Set expectations for how frequently you’ll text (for example, do you expect texts throughout the day, when you wake up and go to bed, can you even respond when you’re working, etc.)
4. Watch Out for Over Communication
One of the biggest pitfalls I’ve observed in long distance relationships is over communication. You’ve probably seen it before, or maybe it’s even the vision you have in your head when you think of long distance relationships.
Here’s what over communication looks like: Girl and boy go long distance. They call every morning to say hello, and then spend three hours each night talking on the phone. Girl ignores her friends when she’s with them because she’s always looking at her phone for texts. Boy stops going out with his friends because he’s locked in his room talking on the phone. Both of them slowly lose their friendships, hobbies, and even identities because they’re spending all their free time in virtual communication.
I literally cannot see a way in which that situation ends well.
Every friend I’ve observed in that dynamic has inevitably broken up with their partner. Because honestly? Sometimes talking to your partner long distance just drives home the fact that you are not together, because talking on the phone is not the same as being together in person.
The solution isn’t to talk more, but, in my opinion, to make the times you do talk valuable and meaningful, while cashing in on one of the few advantages of a long distance relationship: time apart to invest in your independent identity and relationships with friends and family.
5. Find Time For Yourself
Carrying on from the above, one of my absolute biggest tips for starting a long distance relationship is to take time for yourself.
It will help immensely to change your perspective from “I’m forced to be apart from my partner and it’s destroying me” to “I have time now to try a new hobby, skill, or goal that will challenge me as a person and also take my mind off the pain of being apart.”
I’ll forever remember a friend in college who was in a very long distance relationship, who took it upon herself to become a certified scuba diver (in Ohio, no less) while she was apart from her boyfriend. Honestly, it was inspiring! When I ended up in my own LDR a year later, I tried to take a leaf from her book.
Over the years we’ve been apart, here are a few things Dan and I have done for ourselves:
- Took pottery courses and made an entire set of dinnerware, among other items
- Ran four half marathons
- Built up this travel blog to the point it’s a paying career
- Became a chartered accountant (Dan)
- Became a licensed occupational therapist (me)
- Had five surgeries
- Reduced golf handicap from 13 to 4
- Learned chess
- Tried out meditation and mindfulness techniques
- Climbed to Everest Base Camp
- Reconnected with old friends
- Went on family vacations
- Read about 500 books
Look, I’m not saying you have to do all or any of the items above. I’m also not saying that you need to “achieve” anything while you’re apart. But try to think of your time apart as time to learn more (and love more) about yourself, and it will benefit not just you but your relationship in the long term.
6. You Don’t Need to Have it all Figured Out Now
When you’re first starting a long distance relationship, there’s a lot of pressure to have it all figured out. I mean, you’re probably reading this article right now because you want to be prepared!
And while it’s good to be prepared, it’s also useful to leave a certain amount up to chance and fate – and not put too much pressure on your relationship to fit into a certain mold or timeline. Give yourselves the space to grow and change.
This applies to developing your timeline of closing the distance. In our first year of long distance, Dan and I had an exact timeline for closing the distance and we made it work.
However, when we had to start up long distance again a couple years later, our timeline was a lot more fluid. Yes, it was difficult to not have an exact end to our long distance in sight, but it also gave us the time and space to accomplish career goals and grow as people.
There is no one right situation. If you don’t have an exact timeline figured out yet, I’m here to say that’s okay.
7. Let Yourself Feel All the Emotions
Finally, give yourself the permission to really feel your feelings. What I mean by this is that long distance relationships are an emotional rollercoaster, and at a certain point you’ll feel better if you just go along for the ride.
You’re going to be overjoyed when you visit your partner. Devastated when you part ways at the airport. Content when you Facetime to say goodnight. Lonely when you fall asleep alone. Jealous, angry, overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, and more, all at different points.
You didn’t sign up for a long distance relationship because it would be easy. You agreed to it because your relationship is worth all of the emotions I listed above – and more.
While it can be painful (trust me, I know) you are also lucky to be a human being who can experience this full range of emotional experiences – many people live their whole lives without a partnership that makes them feel this alive.
Timeline for Starting a Long Distance Relationship
You may be anxious about what your future will look like if you are just starting a long distance relationship. Over the two times that Dan and I were long distance, I’ve definitely noticed some patterns that I’ll share below.
Going into your new long distance relationship with a rough idea of what to expect will hopefully be very helpful!
This time period can be filled with angst, confusion, and heartbreak. I think it’s not discussed enough how difficult it can be to even decide if you want to start a long distance relationship. This will probably be a trying time for you and your partner, but please know that’s normal.
During the months and weeks before you go long distance, this is the time when you need to discuss your expectations, fears, plans, goals, and more.
The first week of a long distance relationship can sometimes feel the most difficult. Learning how to manage a long distance relationship is like building a very specific muscle, and right now you are a weakling.
During this first week, it’s totally normal to cry and feel lost and lonely. If you need to call each other every night for hours, go for it.
During your first month of long distance, you’re going to experience some growing pains in your relationship. Compared to any other time in your relationship, this is the make-or-break time.
What I recommend focusing on during this month is building up a healthy pattern of communication. Get into a routine of video calls and weekly long distance date nights. But also give yourself time alone, and make this the month you sign up for a new class or hobby.
A lot of people fall victim to “over communication” during this phase, so be wary of that. You may also find yourselves arguing or getting bored with phone calls. Talking on the phone vs. in person is a very different skill. You lack body language and it can feel more unnatural. Give yourselves grace that it won’t always be easy, but it will get better.
Around month three, you’ll finally feel like you’re getting the hang of this whole long distance relationship thing. You’re getting better at balancing communication with your partner with your in person relationships and activities.
You may also be feeling more optimistic and excited, because you have a visit coming up!
For Dan and I, since we lived in different countries, we visited each other every three to four months. Month three was always very exciting! If you live closer to each other, you might visit more frequently, so your experience may be different.
At the one year mark, it’s time to do some reckoning in your long distance relationship.
First of all, congratulate yourselves on staying together for a whole year, long distance. Your relationship is probably so much stronger now, with better communication and trust.
But, being long distance forever isn’t a solution. If you haven’t talked about it yet, this is the time to get serious about a timeline for eventually being together in person.
Final Thoughts on Starting a Long Distance Relationship
If you’ve made it to the end of this article, then it sounds like you’re pretty serious about starting your long distance relationship on the right foot.
I absolutely wish you the best of luck. If you have any questions about beginning a new long distance relationship – or how to make an existing one work – then just leave me a comment below!